45th Ward aldermanic candidates outline their zoning platforms; debate set for Jan. 21 at Copernicus Center


All of the 45th Ward aldermanic candidates pledge to consider community input before making a decision on zoning proposals, but they differ on how that process would work.

Given the zoning controversies in Jefferson Park, including the proposed 48-unit apartment complex at Long Avenue and Argyle Street, it is expected that the candidates will have an opportunity to outline their zoning platform at a debate at 7 p.m. today, Jan. 21, at the Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence Ave. The debate is sponsored by the Jefferson Park Neighborhood Association and Nadig Newspapers.

Challenging first-term Alderman John Arena, a Portage Park resident, are Chicago police lieutenant and Gladstone Park resident John Garrido, “45th Ward “Mom” blogger and Jefferson Park resident Michelle Baert and attorney and Jefferson Park resident Michael Diaz. Garrido lost to Arena by 30 votes in a runoff aldermanic election in 2011.

Arena plans to continue the zoning feedback process which he initiated when he took office. Arena requires developers to submit a packet of documentation on the project, and prior to holding a community meeting on a proposed zoning project, Arena may seek input from a local neighborhood organization or consult privately with his zoning advisory board, which includes urban planners and architects from the ward.

“It is a very thorough process that includes multiple points of public feedback and attempts to work through an iterative process so that the community gets what it wants,” an Arena spokesman said in a statement.

In his development guidelines for the ward, Arena asks that zoning projects respect the community’s architectural heritage and encourage “green” building practices.

Garrido said that he would rely heavily on input from the community which would be most affected by a zoning change and that community meetings would be held. He wrote on his campaign’s Web site that “nobody will be excluded from the process” and that project documents, including renderings, would be posted on the ward’s Web site.

“While our office will utilize the talents of residents throughout the ward to consult on zoning issues, decisions should come from the community directly impacted.

“Quite simply, advice from residents in Old Irving may be helpful on zoning issues in Jefferson Park, but ultimately it’s the Jefferson Park neighborhood who needs to weigh in on these decisions that will have a greater impact upon their daily lives,” Garrido wrote on his campaign’s Web site.

Baert pledged to hold to hold a community vote on zoning proposals. A project developer would present plans at a community meeting, and then at a second meeting a vote would take place, according to a campaign staffer. Residents who live within a three-block radius of the site of the proposed project would be allowed to vote.

“I believe that residents and neighborhood organizations should always have a say and that the alderman should represent the local neighborhood needs. As your alderman, I would have a public and transparent process which would require and include local neighborhood input – important input which would determine support for any proposed zoning change,” Baert wrote in a campaign letter to residents.

Diaz pledged to form a committee that would review zoning applications in the ward.

“We need a zoning and infrastructure committee to address the challenges of our diverse ward with resident input,” Diaz said in a written statement. “I propose establishing this committee with at least 12 members that will serve as a check and balance of applications for zoning and variances or modifications.”

Also in the 45th Ward, the Old Irving Park Association, the Greater Independence Park Neighborhood Association and Portage Park Neighborhood Association will hold a candidates forum at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. Feb. 3, at the Irving Park Baptist Church, 4401 W. Irving Park Road. The Gladstone Park Chamber will hold a candidates debate at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 5, at Hitch School, 5625 N. McVicker Ave.